Search & Read
Navigating the Void
Questioner: Greetings, Sundari.
It’s been a few months since I last wrote. I hope all is well with you.
Can you speak to me about “the persistent intellect” that thinks about this world as now being “ho-hum,” “the mind” that feels life is flat or dull and “the ego” that wants it to be something more?
James says in Inquiry into Existence on page 156, “Someone uninterested in life is sick, not wise.” Others in satsangs have expressed similar thoughts, feelings, experiences as they deepen in their understanding.
Saying it is all mithya, meaning the thoughts about this, the feelings being felt and the desire for it to be different are not real – and here I hear myself wanting to say “not satisfying” but that is the reflection speaking. Is it just a matter of continued discrimination, rendering these persistent vasanas of “wanting to have something more,” to “be something more” non-binding and trusting in the teachings or what? Can you speak to this, please?
Sundari: Thank you for your greetings, all is well, thank you. Your question regarding the transitionary stage between Self-realization and Self-actualization is a common one. We call it “the void,” and many inquirers are faced with it when all objects are seen to be devoid of substance, in particular when the person they once took themselves to be is revealed to be no more than a construct, a guna-generated program. What to “do” when you realize the pointlessness of all doing and you are not the doer? Knowing that we are the Self does not magically translate into the disappearance of the jiva – and like it or not, “doing” happens till the day we die.
The “all is emptiness” stage is created by tamas, which presents another Self-actualization problem that usually, but not always, affects older Self-realized people who have had families and/or careers. Jobs and families solve the problem of financial and emotional security, but they don’t take care of the doer problem, so the tendency to act has no place to go when you realize the zero-sum nature of life. The risk here is that the doer slips into a depression because you cannot in good faith distract it with the mindless samsaric pursuits that previously occupied it, i.e. jobs, entertainment and endless family events, etc.
What we are all aiming for as serious inquirers dedicated to the last stage of Self-inquiry, nididhyasana, is to transition straight from firm Self-knowledge directly to perfect doer satisfaction – tripti. Unfortunately, this can only take place if you are totally qualified when Self-knowledge is firm, i.e. all the jiva’s binding conditioning (mental and emotional patterns) have been transformed into devotion to the Self, i.e. rendered non-binding. This is seldom the case when Self-realization takes place, which is why the last stage of Self-inquiry, nididhyasana, is for most inquirers the most difficult and the longest.
Swami Paramarthananda calls nididhyasana “requalifying.” You never know when, during the manana phase, firm Self-knowledge will take place and you never know how long nididhyasana will take. In fact if Self-knowledge makes you a perfectly spontaneous karma yogi, it doesn’t matter, because time doesn’t exist for you. So if you don’t experience perfect jiva satisfaction when Self-knowledge is unshakable, you need to remain humble and keep up the practices that qualified you for understanding, as they will eventually remove the obstacles to limitless bliss. There are things that you can do, such as keep the rajasic doer hard at work studying scripture, which is the best dharma there is for a doer.
Enlightened or not, the human mind needs to be committed to something other than the doer and its projections. It needs noble work until its dying day. Serving the world should fill the gap that serving the doer formerly filled. That service can take many forms, such as taking care of your worldly karma as a parent, a friend, a boss, a worker, whatever. Even doing something ordinary like cooking a meal for yourself or your family should be an act of gratitude and worship.
Being “enlightened” is ordinary, and the ego does not like to hear that. It wants to hear that its life will be transformed and its karma somehow becomes different, better, “exalted.” That moksa does not change anything in the jiva’s life except indirectly by how and why it contacts objects, can be a real let-down for some inquirers. You will still be the same person you were before. Nothing changes except the status of objects – they are seen to be empty, whereas prior to Self-knowledge obtaining they were taken to be the source of happiness.
Jivas are a flawed bunch and there’s not much can be done about it. We are all a mixed bag on that level, knowing how the gunas work conditioning the mind. Nobody is doing anything, so there is no blame either. Our jiva program plays out the way it does, and we are either tied to it or not. At the same time, being free of it does not mean we stop thinking and feeling; all that changes is the import we give to our thoughts and feelings, and how they impact us. To be truly free I must be free to be upset, disappointed, angry, etc. as well as happy and peaceful. But if negative feelings loom large and take up residence in the real estate of my mind for longer than it takes to recognize that they are there, I am clearly not that free. Freedom means I see my thoughts and feelings as they arise and the knowledge kicks in instantly to dissolve them.
If you want to know more about the nature of non-dual devotion and the stages of spiritual development explained by Vedanta, please read The Yoga of Love, as it makes clear what a non-dual devotee is and the reasons for keeping up one’s sadhana once Self-knowledge is firm.
~ Much love, Sundari